Zero Waste Hierarchy

The Zero Waste Hierarchy ranks resource management strategies in order of the highest and best use to the lowest of materials, with the aim of minimizing the amount of waste created in the first place.

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Best Use

Refuse what we don’t need and change the
way we produce and consume by redesigning
business models, goods, and packaging
in order to reduce resource-use and waste

Minimize quantity, toxicity, and ecological footprint of consumption. Reuse products or components for the same purpose for which they were conceived, or repurpose them for another use that doesn’t reduce their value

Check, clean or repair products or components of products that have become waste so that they can be reused without any other pre-processing

High quality material recovery from separately collected waste streams

Technologies to recover materials from mixed waste and discards from sorting processes into new building blocks for high quality applications

What cannot be recovered from mixed waste is biologically stabilized prior to landfilling

Options that don’t allow for material recovery, have high environmental impact and create lock-in effects that threaten the transition to zero waste: waste-to-energy incineration, co-incineration, plastic-to-fuel, landfilling of non-stabilized waste, gasification, pyrolysis, illegal dumping, open burning and littering

sad face
Worst Use

Refuse/Rethink/Redesign

Refuse what we don’t need and change the
way we produce and consume by redesigning
business models, goods, and packaging
in order to reduce resource-use and waste

Reduce and reuse

Minimize quantity, toxicity, and ecological footprint of consumption. Reuse products or components for the same purpose for which they were conceived, or repurpose them for another use that doesn’t reduce their value

Preparation for reuse

Check, clean or repair products or components of products that have become waste so that they can be reused without any other pre-processing

Recycling/composting / anaerobic digestion

High quality material recovery from separately collected waste streams

Material and chemical recovery and residuals management

Technologies to recover materials from mixed waste and discards from sorting processes into new building blocks for high quality applications

What cannot be recovered from mixed waste is biologically stabilized prior to landfilling

Unacceptable

Options that don’t allow for material recovery, have high environmental impact and create lock-in effects that threaten the transition to zero waste: waste-to-energy incineration, co-incineration, plastic-to-fuel, landfilling of non-stabilized waste, gasification, pyrolysis, illegal dumping, open burning and littering

Stumbling Blocks

Laying a Solid Foundation

While the planning process can vary from community to community, the following steps are necessary to create a fully developed plan that meets the needs of the city and its residents:

Building a Zero Waste City

Getting to zero waste requires a bold vision to move away from the status quo. Here are some tried and tested strategies for reducing waste, creating good jobs, and enriching the local economy:

Ensuring a Just Transition

A just transition to zero waste is a part of this larger justice-centered transition towards a regenerative economy. Within this framework zero waste is far more than just a means towards environmental goals, but rather, a holistic tool of social intervention towards well-being for all.

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Strengthening community control

A just transition to zero waste prioritizes the places where inequality has been most pervasive, redistributing power and resources so that communities have the authority to make autonomous decisions, meet their own needs, and model system change on a local level.

Protecting occupational health and safety at recycling MRFs

Recycling workers face serious hazards on the job, and their injury rates are more than double the national average. Occupational injuries are preventable, and local governments have the power and responsibility to ensure that zero waste jobs are good jobs.

Supporting transitioning workers

Plans to shut down outdated, polluting facilities — such as landfills, incinerators, and plastics production plants — should be accompanied by stringent policies to protect the wellbeing of workers whose livelihoods may be adversely affected by the transition to a regenerative, zero waste economy.

Launch Events

Hear from policymakers, zero waste practitioners, and community activists on how to put the Zero Waste Masterplan into action!

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